Obstacles to Adoption

One problem that could slow the adoption of composites for infrastructure work is the method that government owners use to evaluate project bids. “In general, the procurement process is focused on the low bidder on the acquisition side. In the past, the longer life benefits have not been considered, and that’s an area where composite materials excel in terms of corrosion resistance, low maintenance and long life,” says Reeve.

Although some states have begun changing this approach, the Biden administration’s stated commitment to climate change, sustainability and resiliency could speed up the process. “As the administration goes to work, implementing the programs that are going to be used to administer these [infrastructure] dollars, they will be putting that overlay on those programs to achieve maximum benefit in those policy areas,” says Nadeau. He believes that pressure will also come from the public, especially young people who want to see governments and industry adopt more sustainable practices.

If infrastructure owners get serious about reducing carbon emissions “they’re going to see how much more carbon they’re putting into the atmosphere, whenever they specify a steel bridge, or especially a concrete bridge as compared to an FRP bridge,” says Troutman. “We’ve done enough homework to know that our carbon footprint and embodied energy is going to be significantly less than that of aluminum, steel and concrete.”

To get the maximum benefit from infrastructure spending, the composites industry must make a concerted effort to reach out to infrastructure owners, engineers, designers and other decision makers to educate them about the sustainability benefits of composite materials.

“I believe that the major players in the composite industry have not taken this seriously; they have not devoted the level of attention to innovation in this arena like they’ve done for other markets,” says Nanni. “Look at what’s happened with composites in the aviation industry over the course of 30 years, and then look what’s been done in the composite industry for construction. The difference is day and night.”

Part of the problem is that there is no easy way to identify and reach out to the decision makers among building owners and infrastructure agencies. Unlike aerospace, where there are just a few large companies, the key people in building and infrastructure design and construction are spread out among all the states and among various owners/agencies within those states.